What functions does public relations serve in Australia, Malaysia or Singapore?

How do the culture, politics and the economy of a nation influence its practice? Draw on the unit readings and on case study examples to illustrate your points.

The roles of public relations are often associated with spin doctoring, image management, media manipulation and self promotion. Unlike in America, there’s not much need for lobbying and the function of public relations varies from country to country. However, the primary function of public relations is to assist in image management, and to promote or represent an event, cause, or an organization. One of the most notable and earliest events of public relations was the history of Lady Godiva. She was known as the woman who rode through Coventry naked except covered in her long hair in order to reduce the town’s taxes. Indirectly, she was a great lobbyist in her time because her actions managed to affect and reduce the high taxes policy at that time. However, the person who coined the term public relations in 1923 in a publication titled; Crystallizing Public Opinion is Edward Bernays. The practice of public relations has since come a long way. The history of public relations has existed even way before the people understood the concept of public relations. The practice of public relations has since evolved due to some factors such as the culture, economy and politics of a nation. Asia in general, the practice is very much contributed by the trading and business practice with the other countries such as the American and the European nations. Malaysia for example, is the 13th trading nation in the world while Australia currently has a Bilateral Free Trade Agreements with New Zealand, United States, Thailand and Singapore. The practice of public relations is influenced by numerous factors such as culture, politics and the current economy. These 3 factors are important in describing the way public

relations is practiced. Every country is becoming more diverse through migration and intercultural matrimony, changing the way public relations functions. In some countries, public relations are considered as the finer art of advertising. As a trading nation, Malaysia welcomes MNC and these MNCs not only set up their offices here, they also brought in their culture, values and practices known as the power relation. These MNCs will slowly bring in foreigners to assist in their establishments and most of them settle in the country and some even marry local women which further contribute to the concept of power relation. For example, Japanese companies such as Honda, Suzuki or Toyota resulted in the Bon Odori festival that attracts thousands of Japanese every year. Besides that, with the high influx of foreigners into Malaysia, local hypermarkets have started to cater to these foreigners by importing food stuff and goods from their countries. Because of this, Malaysians have more options and are more knowledgeable in the culture and food of other countries. For example, Cold Storage has branches in “prestigious” geographic locations such as Hartamas, Bangsar and Damansara and they sell couscous, mac n’ cheese, Filo pastry, and many other imported goods. Besides importing their technology, people, goods and services, they also imported their culture of CSR which is the acronym of Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR started in the developed nations because they felt the need to give back to the community. The found out that companies who adopted CSR are more favorable compared to other companies who don’t. The success of CSR was encouraging and was more successful than expected. When these international MNCs enter the Asian continent, the brought along CSR and introduced it to the big local players in the country. CSR became even more successful in Malaysia

because the government decided to reduce their taxes to encourage these MNCs to contribute to the community. The practice of public relations is hugely influenced by the culture of a country. For example, in Malaysia, employers have to consider the traditions of 3 races before they officially open a factory or a business. They are expected to officiate the opening ceremony with “kompang” for the Malays, big, huge bundles of red firecrackers for the Chinese and lastly, the presence of an Indian holy man to “bless” the ceremony. Besides that, they have to consider the festivals in Malaysia. They have to respect the Malays and their fasting month which during this time, they are not offered food or drinks and they have to leave earlier to fulfill their prayers and then get ready to “buka puasa”. For the Chinese, they have to give Mandarin oranges during Chinese New Year and the Indians have to fast or perform sacrifices during Thaipusam. Such practices are called “Glocalization” which MNCs adapt and conform to the local practices. According to Maynard and Tian (2004), glocalization is the process whereby global corporations tailor products and marketing to particular circumstances to meet variations in consumer demand. The term glocalization is a cross between global and local which brings the meaning; Think global, act local. Few examples of MNCs who does just that are HSBC and McDonalds. In the case of McDonalds, one of the reason they’re so successful is because the understood the concept of glocalization. Anywhere around the world, there will always be a McDonalds and their menu varies from country to country. In Malaysia, they have porridge called McBubur but you can’t find it in any other McDonalds outside Malaysia. The most fascinating are the figurines of Ronald McDonalds outside the stores. The McDonalds in Bangkok shows Ronald with his palms together and doing a Namaste while the one in Japan

shows him waving one arm and the one in Malaysia shows him sitting down with his arms on the chair welcoming someone to sit next to him. For HSBC, they always tailor their advertisements to show a country’s values and people. In one HSBC advertisement, they divided the page into 3 columns with the same picture of a hand with the fingers together. The first column says; EGYPT: Be patient, the second column says: ITALY: What exactly do you mean? And the last column says; GREECE: That’s just perfect! And at the bottom of the advertisement; never underestimate the power of local knowledge. Humans are generally ego centric and they will feel some kind of pride when global companies like HSBC who took the time to study their country’s culture. This increases the confidence of their customers because HSBC takes the time to understand local cultures and beliefs. In this case, even the local semiotics. For a company to do business at a global level, local knowledge is important. For example, before meeting a businessman in Japan or India, a present or a souvenir is a must or it will be considered rude to turn up at a business meeting empty handed but presents and souvenirs are considered bribery which is a criminal act in most Western countries according to Curtin-Gaither (2007) Culture as an influence has come to the point that the global cultural economy is confused and the result of this confusion is glocalization. According to Appadurai (1990) the trend of the global culture is either “promoting a global common culture (cultural homogenization) or promoting cultural differences (cultural heterogenization) “ At the moment, the issue of globalization is mainly contributed by the US and the global mass culture is pre dominantly a saturation of American goods and values according to Hall (1991) The most influential brands are mainly dominated by Americans and these brands aren’t just used in America, its presence is felt all over the world making America a producer

of global discourse. Brands such as Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola, Facebook, MTV and McDonalds are not just brands anymore, but more of a lifestyle. Teenagers wearing Nike shirts and shoes, carrying Adidas bags, drinking Coke and eating McDonalds for lunch and dinner while watching MTV is the way of life for some teenagers. The situation has become more rampant in Malaysia because local hypermarkets such as Mydin has taken steps to ban Coca Cola and also certain “mamak” stalls refuses to stock up on Coca Cola as move to ban Coca Cola. Besides that, corporations especially McDonald’s in Malaysia is under pressure because people are more aware and educated of the inhumane treatments towards the animals. The European continent especially Germany on the other hand is different from Malaysia or Australia. Germany has many red tapes or restrictions making it difficult for American brands, influence and culture to penetrate their conservative nation. Facebook is the primary social networking tool in Malaysia and Australia but it’s relatively unknown in Germany because most German uses their own German social networking tool. The same is said for MSN Hotmail accounts. While most Malaysian and Australians have a Hotmail account, Germans uses GMX accounts which is provided by a German based company. This comes down to the practice of public relations being influenced by politics. According to Sriramesh, “Public relations thrive on public opinions” which coincides with Habermas public sphere theory in which the politicians utilizes public relations as a tool to project their ideas, messages and beliefs unto the general public. The recent political issue was the Beijing Olympics when Mioke was asked to lip sing while the real singer, Pei Yi wasn’t considered pretty enough. Organizers later defended their move by saying that “it was about projecting the right image for China without regards to honesty and the audience” (The Star) The “image” China was trying to project was idealistic because the nation and the

political parties were scrutinized in ever minuscule detail because of its reputation as a communist country. According to Sriramesh, Asia and Western have a very different concept of public relations. Western countries define public relations as a platform for elections and public debate which is what Barack Obama is currently working on. He has been praised for his public relations tactic when he managed to make Oprah Winfrey “cried her eyelashes off” during his acceptance speech. (TIME) While in Asia, alternative views are encouraged in theory but not in practice (Sriramesh) with the example of Raja Petra Kamarudin who was charged with sedition. On a Malaysian level, the most covered issue was the murder case of Mongolian model Altantuyaa which was associated with the Deputy PM Najib who denied all allegations. That issue turned out to be the most widely covered news that attracted international news coverage from Singapore and even Al Jazeera. However, political and economic factors are dependent on each other in order to influence the practice of public relations. According to Sriramesh, “politics and economics are 2 sides of a coin because a country’s decision making ability is influenced by the economic direction that determines a country’s stability and development” besides that, he also added that, “due to the ever changing and ever evolving political systems and democratization, the practice of public relations has resulted in modern public relations” A country’s current economic situation can sometimes be bad or good for the practice of public relations. Pluralistic governance that promotes more flexibility where the market offers goods and services and these providers favor strategic public relations to attract the buyers. However, in more developed governance where there are a lot of competitions,

private entrepreneurship is preferred. In which the government becomes the target or the public for public relations professionals. In conclusion, the practice of public relations has evolved over the time due to many factors but one thing is for sure, the practice has faced many challenges such as the need to standardize the practice to encourage more ethical public relations practitioners. The practice of public relations no longer consist of writing press releases for the media but presently, practitioners are faced with many ethical dilemma and the job scope is no longer limited to writing press releases but also to build “relationships” with the “public” which is where the term public relations come from. Public relations practitioners are adaptive to the challenging nature of the practice. The function of public relations has blurred between, event organizer, secretary, journalist, and friend.

(1980 words)

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